I got a chance to attend the exclusive talk of Cristeta Comerford for Asia Society members. This was a day after she received her BPInoy award for excellence in Culinary Arts.
Who is Cristeta Comerford?
She was the first woman and Asian Executive Chef from a minority in the White House.
She was an Executive Sous Chef in 1995 during the Clinton administration.
She got promoted 10 years after to Executive Chef on August 15, 2005 during the Bush administration.
She was a food technology graduate of the University of the Philippines.
She migrated to the United States with her family in the 1980s.
She is proud to be a Filipino with her roots from Bulacan and Batangas — even after 25+ years in the US.
She is married to John, who is also a Chef.
8 Things I Learned from Cristeta Comerford
1. Your success is truly reflected on your child’s success.
Cristeta’s 8-year old daughter, Danielle, can now prepare a 4-course meal at such a young age. You’ll know if a person is successful based on how that person raises his/her kids.
2. Focus on what’s in front of you. Never Miss an Opportunity! Carpe Diem. Cliche but True.
There were 450 applications for the Executive Chef position. It was shortlisted to 10 and then to 3 finalists. The final screening process was for the finalists to prepare a tasting menu.
Cristeta was already an executive sous chef in the White House at that time, and she was one of the 3 finalists. The sous chef is the one who does all the dirty work and execution in the kitchen, so she was tasked to help the other two finalists prepare their tasting menu. They were her competitors but she had to ensure that they had all the things needed to become successful.
To make matters worse, Comerford had to prepare for a State Dinner right before the final screening, so she did not have much time to prepare for her own tasting menu for the finals.
Little did she know that the state dinner was her tasting menu and it was a test to see how she performed well under pressure.
3. Never Underestimate the Power of a Pinoy Breakfast.
The most requested Filipino food at Cristeta’s home is the Pinoy Breakfast — Tapa, Tocino, etc.. Let’s be proud of our love for Tapsilog!
4. The name of the game is Efficiency.
The White House kitchen only has 7 full-time staff and it is half the size of the smallest conference room in Makati Shangri-La. With this kitchen, they can prepare a meal for two or for a State Dinner for 100+ people or for a Congress picnic for 1,000+ people. They would reinforce the kitchen with additional staff, if needed.
5. Leverage Fear.
After her Executive Chef announcement in 2005, she was faced with the word FEAR and left with the question, “Now, what?” Instead of being afraid, she used it to further fuel her passion — and now she continues to be the Executive Chef of the Obamas.
6. Never choose Career over Family.
When she got promoted to the Executive Chef position, her husband John (who was also an executive chef) decided to step back in his career. She mentioned that there are a lot of Pinoy chefs in the US who are very talented and career-driven, but sadly they would sacrifice time with their family.
7. The Difference between a Personal Chef vs. a Chef in a Restaurant
A personal chef is someone who cooks based on the likes or dislikes of his/her audience. A chef in a restaurant, on the other hand, would specialize in a particular cuisine or style of cooking. Cristeta is the personal chef of the First Family, so she cooks based on what the Obamas would like to have (which would often be simple meals). She confessed that she would put touches of Filipino food in some of the meals.
8. Go back to your roots!
She was determined to go back to Manila to receive the BPInoy award despite the rigorous White House clearance she would need. She inspired a lot of people in the room that night — distinguished chefs, food writers, and foodies. Proud to be Pinoy!
Live an Awesome Life,
Text and Photos by Anton Diaz. Copyright 2009.
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